This is general advice about civil judgments and judgment recovery. I am a judgment broker, not a lawyer, but I have observed and worked in judgment recovery from every angle. I was defrauded, and paid a lot for lawyers to get, and keep my judgments potentially enforceable, before Harry Toft stole them.
The tips below are my opinion and are not legal advice. If you have questions or are planning any legal action, please consult an attorney.
I learned that a judgment is not cash. I was shocked to learn that after I paid a lot to lawyers, the courts did not care if I was repaid for my Judgment or not. I could not afford to keep paying lawyers, so I made it a mission to learn how to do my own judgment recovery, which led me to enforce judgments for others.
I learned Judgment-related laws, studied more than 100 books, studied training courses, and enforced 100s of Judgments. To solve the problem of finding good Judgment enforcers nationwide, I started and manage a successful judgment referral business that helps everyone except debtors.
Over a decade or so, I heard many stories, and saw what happened before and after people got their judgments. I am not a lawyer and this article is not legal advice. These are just some tips that I wish I had read before I sued someone, and tried to enforce my first judgment. Here is my judgment recovery tip list:
1) Before you try to sue someone, try and settle with them. If you pay to get a judgment, and pay again to get it enforced; you are not getting the full amount you lost or are owed. You are often better off by settling first. Try and work it out. Be nice and do not lose your temper. That is good advice in life, and with the next topic:
2) Research your debtor. Make sure they are really who they said they are. Amazingly, sometimes people lie. Find all the Also Known As (AKAs) of the debtor. If Bill Jones ripped you off, find out if his name is also William Alfred-Alfonzo Jones. Try and find out how old (date of birth is best) they are, where they live, work(ed), their SS number, phones, anything you can before you sue them. Once you sue them (or lose your temper), it will cost more and be harder to get this kind of information.
Search your local court or their web sites. Does this person already have a lot of lawsuits against them? Are they dirt poor? If so, maybe just drop the whole thing. If they go bankrupt, it is over. (Unless you pay a lawyer to contest the discharge of your judgment in bankruptcy, that sometimes works.)
3) Include everyone you can on the lawsuit. (And every AKA you know of.) As an example, you bought a fence from ABC, Inc, and in mild weather, the fence fell over a week later, because they did not use concrete to set the fence posts; like they wrote in their proposal. They refuse to fix it or refund you, so you decided to sue them.
If ABC, Inc. contacted you about a new fence in the mail, and then salesman Barney Google convinced you to buy it, and Mortimer Snerd installed it; try to sue all three. You will have a better chance of a settlement or collecting if you include all the parties. It is difficult and expensive to add more defendants later. If you were defrauded, perhaps include words about that in the “complaint” papers that you wish made into a judgment.
4) Do not skimp on serving the Debtor(s). Have a Sheriff or a Registered Process Server personally serve them. If your debtor cannot be served, why bother suing them? The cost of professional process serving can be added to the judgment amount. A professional process server can sometimes serve those who try to evade service.
5) A default judgment (where the debtor did not show up) is sometimes a hollow victory. Many debtors do not care about default judgments. This is because the common sense definition of a default, does not apply in civil courts. Most of the time when you default, you lose. In civil court a default is often a second chance for a debtor to avoid paying a Judgment.
If you, or a judgment enforcer takes their assets, they care very much. They can ask the court to agree with their motion to vacate the judgment. If they succeed on a motion to vacate, you lose the judgment, and have to start over with a new trial. Proof of service is very important.
6) You might not win the lawsuit, sometimes justice is not done. If it is over, it is over, learn from it and move on. If you win, you have won the battle, not the war. You get rights to interest on what is owed you, but will you be able to collect it? Judgments are only good for a certain number of years unless renewed. Property values are down, and it is a hassle to domesticate Judgments if the debtor moves.
Anything can happen. The debtor might pay you right away. That does not happen as often as it should. They might go bankrupt. They might appeal the judgment, they might do a motion to vacate. There are other legal tricks they can play too. They might say they will pay or settle, but do not. Sometimes logic plays no part. Sometimes a debtor would rather pay, or ends up paying twice as much money avoiding your judgment, as they would have spent by simply paying you.
8) You can try to collect your judgment yourself, and might spend lots of time and money trying to get your money back. This often results in “throwing good money after bad”. Or you can pay for an attorney. Or find a mortal (non-attorney) experienced judgment enforcer to do all the work, and spend the money, to recover your money.
9) If you hire a lawyer, most often you have to pay by the hour, even if you do not get a dime of your money back. If you assign (turn over, sell, sign over, give up ownership of) your Judgment to a Judgment enforcer, you have to pay about 1/2 or what they recover on your money. That seems like a lot, but it’s fair considering how much time, work, money, and study it takes, and all the things that can go wrong. When a Judgment enforcer is successful, it costs the debtor much more than if they had paid you in the first place.
10) In this economy, it can take a very long time to recover money. As mentioned on tip 1, settling is best, but it rarely works out. Debtors often do not pay after offering to settle.
In summary, the choices for Judgment Recovery of money from a debtor are:
A) Successfully settle with the debtor.
B) Enforce the Judgment yourself.
C) Hire a lawyer.
D) Find a Judgment enforcer E) Use a Judgment Broker, as they know the best enforcers, contingency collection lawyers, and collection agencies. A judgment broker maximizes the chances of your successful judgment recovery.